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if i told you that the only improvements Virtua Tennis 4 can truthfully boast over its three year old predecessor (Virtua Tennis 2009) are slightly updated graphics and a motion-control-enabled arcade mode that plays only slightly better than Wii Sports Tennis (from 2006), then you might start to wonder what on earth the people at Sega have been playing at.
well actually there isn't really a however. what have those dudes been playing at? it's not tennis, that's for sure. as i say, the graphics are slightly, but not dramatically better than we've seen before, but the gameplay is a big fat lump of more-of-the-same.
the Virtua Tennis games have long occupied a slightly uneasy space between arcade game and sports sim, and number 4 is no exception. the problem is that Sega seem to think that the winning formula consists in making it look sort of realistic, like a sim, but play in quite a loose, easily-accessible way like an arcade game.
the main problem with this approach is it really smacks of bet-hedging, and volume 4 is a hedger-in-chief. it's like they tried to make a full-on sim, but when it wasn't as good as Top Spin 4, they tried to make it a bit fun, a bit 'Mario Tennis' round the edges so people like me wouldn't be too harsh on it.
dear Sega, generally, unless you have something truly radical, it's best to stick to the rules: sports sims try to look and play realistically, arcade sports games exchange realism for kooky strategy and out-and-out fun. yours, RQT.
there have been some successful attempts to span the two over the years (Burnout 3, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games, Wii Sports 2 Table Tennis), but Virtua Tennis 4 isn't going anywhere near that list. it looks a bit off, plays a bit off and it's pretty boring. basically, the worst of both worlds.
one example, for example, of something that exemplifies a misguided attempt to lighten the tone and inject a bit of arcade 'fun' comes in the form of the board-game style mechanic that governs progress through the career mode.
dull, frustrating and unnecessary as you can possibly imagine.
you receive a random allocation of one, two, three or four moves which you can then make around what can only accurately be described as a gameboard which harburs squares which each represent a different activity: training, PR, rest, match, etc.
yes, you're right, you do get unbelievably frustrated when you miss the square that you needed/wanted to visit, like, for example, one that would have allowed you to rest, and refill your fitness meter before a big match. or likewise, but more so, when you even have to by-pass a major tournament altogether, because computer say three, not two. however, all is not lost as through all this you can console yourself with the knowledge that thanks to this system you also have no way of skipping all the pointless, stupid-novelty-themed mini-games that the virtual dice throw up.
yay, i get to hit a ball at Bruce Forsyth's giant deck of cards in an attempt to make a good poker hand (*needless pop-poker tie-in alert*), or lead some chicks around the court whilst avoiding the ball, apparently to improve my footwork.
all these elements of the game are about as dull, frustrating and unnecessary as you can possibly imagine, and are in no way improved by the sub-Nintendo, Sonic The Hedgehog style synth-soundtrack which boopedy-boops and duh-duh-duhs you all the way to kill-me-kill-me-nowsville.
if all that seems like too much hassle, and it will, then there is arcade mode. this cuts through all the development and mini-game madness and lets you pick your favourite pro (or a generically animated, slightly-off looking version of them) and head straight to the court for some visually unimpressive, under-precisely controlled, left stick + any front button dish-waterly dull tennis.
virtua tennis? viruta schmennis more like. ouch.
if, however, you're still underwhelmed, and you will be, do not fear - the propaganda strap across the box reads 'Better with Kinect Sensor'. iiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrgghhhh. incorrect.
not only can you not use the motion controls in either of the main sections of the game, but the ultra-simplified mode in which you can, turns out to be woefully poor as a result. the AI does the moving, you do the swinging (Wii Tennis anyone?). but don't worry about timing it right, 'cos it's so lenient and flabby that it might as well be doing that for you too. zzzzzzzzz. (seriously, does anyone want to play Wii Tennis now?)
in summary: Virtua Tennis 4's career mode is frustrating and tedious to navigate and full of stupid arcade gimmicks, it's arcade mode is a poor, washed out version of an old, mediocre sim, and it's implementation of motion-control tech is about as pointless and perfunctory as you can get.
so, all things considered, Virtua Tennis 4 isn't going to be challenging even the handle, let alone the coat-hook on my game-fame post-it note door chart. in fact, now that i look at it, it will probably be taking a gift round to the skirting-board in an attempt to get to know the new neighbours.
i like to pride myself on sophisticated analysis, but all i've got by way of a finishing sentiment this week is - virtua tennis? viruta schmennis more like. ouch.
[if you'd like to see more of the weird and wonderful world of reallyquitetired then the door is always open at his semi-detached house/blog]
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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